China's first all-female detective agency has been closed following allegations it broke the law and overstepped the scope of its powers, an official at the center said yesterday.
The Women's Rights Protection Investigation Center was accused of "violating regulators procedures," an advisor at the center surnamed Zhou said.
"The local government said that the center was not in compliance with the law, so we are now in cooperation with the local government," Zhou said.
People had also complained to the local government about the center's efforts to catch cheating husbands, a local newspaper said. There have also been claims that it "intruded on marriage privacy" and charged excessive rates.
Based in the southwestern city of Chengdu, the center provided counselling to victims of domestic violence and failed marriages as well as helping women collect evidence against their philandering spouses.
It was open for less than a year and in November won approval to set up a similar outfit in Shanghai.
Zhou said that the center was only engaged in providing consultation and marriage counselling for its customers and was never involved in any investigations.
"There are just a few irregularities," Zhou said.
If the complaints are proven to be true, "then the center will have broken laws by infringing on citizens' privacy," an official with the local government was quoted as saying by Tianfu Morning Post.
"For such an offense, a company could be fined as much as 100,000 yuan (US$12,000)," the unnamed official said.
Despite a very murky legal status private investigators have thrived in China, and more that 1,000 small private-eye outfits have sprouted around the country in the past three years, according to unofficial statistics.
Many of the 25 female detectives working at the center suffered personal pain in relationships and the agency soon proved its effectiveness at sleuthing, even putting one man behind bars.
"They believed they were doing something good for society and therefore neglected the registration procedures," a staff member said.
China's marriage law allows a party seeking divorce monetary compensation if there is enough evidence of infidelity or other wrong such as abuse, but such evidence is often difficult to collect.